Mongol Rally 2011: The Festival Of Slow (Clothing Optional)

MikeachimThe Everyday10 Comments

Fevered Mutterings image - Crowds seen from ambulance window, Festival of Slow, Mongol Rally 2011- Mike Sowden

Poor devils. Little do they know what's coming.

The ambulance picks up speed.

“I’m really sorry!” shouts the bleached-haired man in the doorway as I fight to click in my seat-belt.


“I said I’m really sorry I’M ABOUT TO GET NAKED!”

I laugh dutifully. Well, they’re adventurers, not comedians, and however in-jokey or lame their attempts at humour are, I’m their guest. I should make the effort. I force a semblance of an amused grin and give the thumbs-up, then turn back to the window to photograph the crowds blurring past.

When I turn back, he’s naked.

Fevered Mutterings image - Spectators, Festival of Slow, Mongol Rally - Mike Sowden

I say, is it my imagination, Muriel, or is that ambulance filled with nudists?

The vehicle stops. I suddenly see the driver has become naked as well. And the front passenger. The fourth member of the team is still clothed and looks disturbed, but not entirely surprised. There is an air of normality about this unexpected eruption of nudity, a matter-of-factness. I’m suddenly concerned that they’ll ask me to participate in whatever the hell it is they’re doing. Terrified, even.

Naked Man n0. 1 pulls open the side-door and steps out, full-frontalling the crowd. I point my camera at the sea of laughing, horrified faces – then a pair of (mercifully blurry) bare buttocks fill my viewfinder, bisected vertically with a strip of luminous green. He’s not naked – he’s wearing a mankini.

In other words, worse than naked.

For my first press photographer’s lap of the circuit, I’ve somehow managed to pick an emergency vehicle driven by Borats.

Fevered Mutterings Image - Mankini'd bloke, Mongol Rally 2011 - Mike Sowden (the photographer, I mean)


The Mongol Rally‘s Festival of Slow is all about spectacle. Beyond the Russian Border Guards, Undercover Spies and Mail-Order Brides picking their way through the crowds looking for prey…

I lav yoo! Need of wife? Ivana makes you happy, PayPal it is OK!

…beyond the gryrating Mongolian wrestlers and the hypercaffeinated MC rushing up and down the track, barely able to get the words into his microphone fast enough…

Well, there were the entrants.

Fevered Mutterings image - Discovery Channel vehicle, Mongol Rally 2011 - Mike Sowden

The perfect blend of car and Muppet - the "carpet".

Fevered Mutterings image - Various vehicles, Mongol Rally 2011 - Mike Sowden

Fevered Mutterings image - Smartcar in the Mongol Rally, 2011 - Mike Sowden

You're doing it in a *what*?

Fevered Mutterings image - Entrants, Mongol Rally 2011 - Mike Sowden

I've seen bog-bodies less brown than these guys.

You're going via Iraq? And the flag will be up all the way? Um...all the best.

Fevered Mutterings image - Craziness on a Mongol Rally car, Festival of Slow - Mike Sowden

Oh, don't even ask.

Fevered Mutterings image - Cars waiting to depart, Festival of Slow, Mongol Rally 2011 - Mike Sowden

Dear diary... Day 1: totally gridlocked. I now realise my months of playing Colin McRae DiRT were no training at *all*.

Before my lap in the Mankini Ambulance is up, I learn the reason for all this brazen man-flesh on display. The chaps in question are Halley’s Comics, and they’re raising funds for the Orchid male (prostate, penile, testicular) cancer charity. There’s method in their nakedness.

I leap out at the end of the lap, wish them good luck (and warmer clothing), and hunt for my next ride…


The Adventurists were kind enough to invite me to this year’s Festival Of Slow (and pay for my train ticket).  It’s the eighth year of the Mongol Rally and the biggest yet, raising over £380,000 for charity at the time of writing.

You can track the progress of the Mongol Rally teams here:

(And go say hi to my friends Dave, Deb, Rick & Sherry of the Social Media Syndicate. They’ve already been pulled over by the police, and probably need your support).

Images: Mike Sowden, 2011.
Many thanks go to Travel4Press for featuring the Festival Of Slow as a press opportunity for freelance travel journalists. If you’re a travel writer, especially if you’re based in the UK, I honestly can’t recommend T4P enough for finding work and keeping up with industry news. Did I mention they’re free to use? Yeah. Amazing.